Professor Emeritus Des Higgins announced as recipient of prestigious EMBL Alumni Award

Congratulations to Professor Emeritus Des Higgins, awarded EMBL’s Lennart Philipson Award in recognition of his significant contributions to bioinformatics.

In 1988, Professor Emeritus Higgins was the primary creator of the Clustal package for multiple sequence alignment - a ground-breaking technology in this area of bioinformatics. The papers describing Clustal are among the most highly cited bioinformatics papers ever. One of the innovations of that programme was that the algorithm was designed to work on personal computers, which greatly increased its use among scientists and has meant it could be used in laboratories everywhere.

Having broken the barrier in 2013 of receiving over 100,000 citations by other scientists for his work, Professor Higgins became the most highly cited Irish scientist, and amongst the most highly cited scientists in the world in 2014 according to Nature journal, as well as being featured in Thomson Reuters’ list of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds that same year. 

Formerly UCD Professor of Bioinformatics and a Principal Investigator at Systems Biology Ireland, Professor Emeritus Des Higgins worked in the areas of bioinformatics and molecular evolution since 1985, predominantly on methods and software for DNA and protein sequence alignment. He retired from UCD last year.

The 2023 EMBL Alumni Awards were announced on 29 March 2023. EMBL has six sites and is ‘an intergovernmental organisation with more than 80 independent research groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology’. Professor Emeritus Higgins joined the EMBL Data Library in 1990 and then worked as a postdoc and staff scientist at EMBL-EBI from 1994 to 1996.

In response to the announcement of this prestigious award, Professor Emeritus Higgins has been quoted on the EMBL site as saying, “I spent 35 years working on sequence alignment methods. The environment at EMBL gave me the opportunity to develop this work and to collaborate with Toby Gibson and Julie Thompson to make Clustal W and Clustal X.  It is over 30 years since I first met Lennart Philipson at EMBL and it is a great honour to receive the award.”

A huge congratulations to Professor Emeritus Higgins on this momentous award. The awards will be presented at EMBL Heidelberg on Friday 7 July 2023.